Yes, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District is doing everything in its power to provide retail electric service to the residents of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.
Unfortunately, that will not happen before this fire season comes and goes and PG&E potentially cuts off power to more than 100,000 residents in just South San Joaquin County alone.
Now that we got that out of the way – there are people that seem to think that they’re somehow going to be “saved” before the city goes dark – let us talk a little bit about SSJID and their effort to take over PG&E’s existing power delivery system in and around the South County.
Since there are a lot of people that moved to Manteca in the last 10 years as this entire energy back-and-forth has been going on, I figured I would take some time to spell out a few historical points about how this current situation came to be, and dispel any myths that may exist – like the fact that this takeover is somehow going to be completed within the next 30 days.
At the cornerstone of this entire effort are three hydroelectric dams in the Sierra that were constructed more than 60 years ago by a district that was essentially nothing more than a bunch of farmers. By floating bonds to cover the cost of constructing the dams along the Stanislaus River, SSJID was able to plan for its future and entered into a 50-year contract to supply the power that the dams generated to PG&E for just $0.05 per kilowatt/hour that serviced the bond debt and set a date for the financial freedom that the contract would provide.
I think it’s important to know this fact for several reasons – the first of which is that PG&E never wastes an opportunity to point out that SSJID has never been in the retail power business before, and therefore don’t have a clue how to reliably deliver power to customers. What’s interesting about that argument is that they never made it when SSJID was generating power for them for five decades at a ridiculously low rate so that they could jack it up and maximize their profit. Second, it shows that this isn’t a fly-by-night proposition, but something that the district has long had in the back of its head as a goal they would like to one-day achieve. They played the long game on this one, and they’re now looking to maximize the return on their investment for the people of the South County.
When that contract expired it was SSJID that was able to cash in on its own electricity by making it available to the open market – something that will be important to know when understanding how SSJID is going to provide electricity to the residents it hopes to one day serve – and squirreling away the money that they knew they would need to fight a power giant like PG&E.
But PG&E has made it as difficult as possible for SSJID throughout the process.
They invested more than $1 million into an “advocacy” organization that rented a Downtown Manteca storefront and began circulating fliers outlining how SSJID would never be able to hit the targets they were promising – a 15 percent reduction in rates – while maintaining the same level of safety that PG&E claimed at the time that they had. Mind you this is before the company’s gas lines blew up a neighborhood in San Bruno and their powe rlines destroyed the Town of Paradise – killing 93 people between the two – but the company clinging to safety as a selling point definitely didn’t hold up well.
They also fought SSJID tooth-and-nail on the regulatory side, putting together enough votes on the San Joaquin Local Agency Formation Commission to block the agency’s effort. Victor Mow – who was on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors at the time – called SSJID’s efforts “a dumb idea” and did everything in his power to embarrass the agency when it came before LAFCO. Speaking of things that don’t hold up well, Mow is currently working his way through the legal process after he allegedly killed somebody while driving under the influence back in December.
And let us not forget the time that a PG&E contractor broke into SSJID’s server and stole sensitive documents pertaining to its efforts to enter the retail power sector – emailing the documents back to handlers at the utility. The company claimed that it didn’t do anything with the information that it received and notified the authorities as soon as it realized what happened, and they promptly cut ties with Meridian Pacific, the company for whom the contractor worked. But it was absolutely bad optics – a massive energy corporation hiring a company that commits what amounts to corporate espionage against a small, government agency.
At this point, SSJID has made several offers to purchase PG&E’s system in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon, but the company has repeatedly said that they are not for sale – forcing SSJID to begin eminent domain proceedings that have since been halted as PG&E works its way through the bankruptcy process. This means that it will likely take years before the entire thing is sorted out, and that means that there is absolutely zero chance that residents will be able to dodge the power shutoff bullet that could be coming any day between now and the middle of fall.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s time to give up hope on an agency that did the smart thing – that bided its time until it was prepared to do something that will benefit families, businesses, and government entities throughout the quickly-growing area it has served for more than 110 years.
No, SSJID is not going to be your savior this summer.
They will, however, be able to deliver your power 15 percent cheaper than PG&E does when they’re finally able to, and they’ll do so without billions of dollars in damages and a history of trying to crush the little guy so that it maximize its return for investors while doling out huge bonuses for its corporate suits.
That alone is worth waiting for.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.